About a year ago, during an Automobile Club of New York defensive driving class, the kind that shaves points off the license and provides discounts for insurance, most of the discussion focused on red light cameras. While a handful of these cameras existed for years in certain areas of New York City, the number of cameras has multiplied faster than rabbits within the city and in surrounding counties over the last several years.
The debate questioned the fallout from installation of the cameras: to help increase safety on roads (the argument of government officials), or if more accidents occurred as people stopped too quickly to avoid entering an intersection before a light changed to red. No matter which answer was defended, all participants agreed the overriding purpose of red light cameras was to place more money into the accounts of local governments.
According to a February article in Westchester County’s The Journal News, 191,330 camera tickets were issued in the city of Yonkers from October 2010 to December 2012. Eighty-eight percent of the tickets were paid and six percent led to court hearings. Less than one percent of disputed tickets were dismissed in court.
As the economy worsened, according to a complaint by one driving class participant, and state and local governments collected less money from the federal government, tax revenues and sales taxes, more municipalities started to install the red light cameras. Many at the class argued that one of the problems with the technology is that it is not always accurate.
In Yonkers, a $10 non-refundable fee must be paid to dispute a $50 ticket.
“So, they still make money off of you even if they are wrong,” said one woman who received a ticket citing an illegal left turn as she legally proceeded through an intersection with a green arrow permitting the turn. After offering her explanation in writing and before actually disputing the ticket, which the woman stated was more trouble than it was worth, she received a letter of rejection from Yonkers with a hand scribbled signature by a city traffic official that she claimed was worse than that of a kindergarten student.
The Camera Law
A New York State law enacted during 2009 allowed other areas besides New York City to install red light cameras during a five-year pilot program. Cameras now can be found in Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island along with Yonkers in Westchester County. Buffalo and Syracuse abandoned red light camera plans.
Among the criticism from drivers is that cars now stop short in anticipation of a light change that will activate the cameras. Rear-end collisions, they say, have increased in areas with cameras. Another argument against the cameras is that some drivers believe municipalities have shortened the duration of the yellow caution lights to increase the number of violations and the payout.
None of the municipalities that have added red light cameras communicated with local drivers in advance to explain the new policies and the potential safety benefits of the cameras. By not getting ahead of the road curve, traffic and government officials just set themselves up to criticism and anger from the driving public.
One driver who uses his vehicle for business indicated that if he is wrong,he will pay the fine and learn from the experience. But, if he believes he is right and does not win his challenge, the fee he pays will just be deducted from his taxes as a business expense.
“It is just the cost of doing business in and around New York City,” he said.
E-ZPass Picks Drivers’ Pockets
Enrollment continues to grow in E-ZPass to allow drivers to avoid long cash lines at toll booths in 14 east coast states. Increasingly, though, a state conspiracy has developed to spark driver outrage that the electronic system actually is picking their pockets.
A New York-issued E-ZPass that is used on the New Jersey Turnpike is charged a 25 percent higher rate than a New Jersey tag on the same road. In New Hampshire, 30 percent more is charged to out-of-state driver tags than that of local residents. More is paid in Maine and West Virginia, too.
In cases studied by the Automobile Club of America, tolls for non-residents using E-ZPass are the same as the higher cash tolls. E-ZPass will not result in savings unless a driver is in his or her home state.
In New York, out-of-town drivers pay a higher percentage for tolls than New Yorkers pay as out-of-town drivers in other states. The reason is that New York toll charges are much higher than those charged by other states.
While AAA New York has challenged the implementation of out-of-state premiums, states see the higher charges as a way to make fast money from drivers who are passing through and who do not vote in local elections.
According to AAA, legislation has been introduced to end this practice in New York, but each state must act independently for the practice to be eliminated throughout the East Coast E-ZPass alliance.